Do you have the nerve?

The unfortunate truth about change is that to affect it, you gotta have guts. It’s not enough to make the tough decisions. You also have to stand behind, in front, and beside them.

If I only had the nerve.

An example: a few years ago I worked with an organization that had to downsize in the face of financial pressure. The exercise was new to the leadership team. They’d never restructured previously, so it was inevitable they’d be a bit ham-fisted in the process. That being said, I was taken aback when the President and CEO determined early on that publishing the names of impacted employees would not be part of the program. Though the decision was couched in being kind to impacted employees, I knew the truth: they were afraid to associate the human impact of their decisions with, well, their decisions. They didn’t have the nerve.

I come from a place of transparency, and not publishing names has never been part of my experience. Reality is, if you don’t publish names, there will always be a few folks who think they’re on “the list,” and yet to be spoken to. Paralysis ensues. In addition, I believe businesses owe impacted employees the courtesy and respect of acknowledging what’s happened, and thanking them for their contribution. Having been on the receiving end of a downsize myself, I would’ve been more hurt had my employer not recognized me by name when I was shown the door. It’s the most human thing to do.

Over time, I was able to chip away at my client’s resolve. At one point, they thought publishing 4 separate regional announcements listing the names of impacted employees in each region “and the rest” would be a good place to land. Maybe so if we were on Gilligan’s Island (season one), but employees have phones and email, and would piece it all together anyway – remember the risk of the crazy quilt. If we don’t create the narrative, employees do. Who do you want controlling your message?

Ultimately, they decided to do the right thing, and all impacted employee names were published. But the struggle that preceded that final decision kind of reminded me of celebrities who spend years kicking and scratching to get public attention, only to complain they have no privacy. If you have the smarts and frankly the privilege to become a leader, know that sometimes there’s a seamy underbelly to your benefits package. But don’t cower from it; step out in front. As Shakespeare said (in different plays, I know), “screw your courage up to the sticking place” and “once more unto the breach.” Your public will appreciate your honesty, your integrity and your steadfast belief that you’ve done the right thing, even if there’s collateral damage.

As long as you treat everyone impacted – employees, vendors, partners – with the respect and dignity they deserve, there’s no need to hide away.


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